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Thursday Feb. 4, 2010 12:13 PM (EST+7)
Berlusconi in Bethlehem: Wall? What wall?

Read more: Wall, barrier, Apartheid wall, fence, security fence, Bethlehem, Silvio Berlusconi

BETHLEHEM, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi traveled along the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Wednesday but failed to notice its most talked-about landmark -- an eight-meter (25-foot) high Israeli security wall.

I'm going to let you down because I didn't notice, Berlusconi told an Italian journalist who asked him about his impressions of the concrete barrier at a joint news conference with his host, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Protocol obliged Berlusconi to get out in the cold and rain to switch from an Israeli car to a Palestinian one at the Israeli checkpoint in the wall, where a steel gate controls access to and from the West Bank, Palestinian sources confirmed.

However, the Italian leader said he had not paid attention.

I was getting my thoughts in order on what I would say to the president, he said. I apologise for that.

The wall at Bethlehem is part of a long barrier constructed mainly of security fencing, which Israel says is necessary to prevent armed Palestinian militants and suicide bombers from reaching its cities from the West Bank.

High-profile visitors to Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born, are often invited to inspect the graffiti-covered wall.

Pope Benedict, who visited in May, said it was a stark reminder of the stalemate in relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinians say the barrier is not about Israel ensuring its security but a means of grabbing West Bank land for itself. (Reporting by Valentina Rusconi and Douglas Hamilton; writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Andrew Dobbie)







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